April 14, 2014

United States Supreme Court Address Requirements For Conviction Of Federal Firearm Charges

Last month, the United States Supreme Court issued an important opinion in the case of Rosemond v. United States, holding that the trial court failed to properly instruct a jury of the elements of an "aiding and abetting" charge and reversing the defendant's conviction as a result of said impropriety.

In Rosemond, the defendant, Justus Rosemond, was in a car with two other men, all of whom were attempting to sell marijuana to another individual. At some point during the transaction, the buyer punched one of the sellers in the face and fled with the drugs. One of the sellers fired several shots from a handgun at the thief, then all the sellers got back into the vehicle and gave chase. Before the three caught up to the thief, however, they were pulled over by a police officer.

Rosemond was charged federally with using a gun in connection with a drug trafficking crime and aiding and abetting that offense. Federal law makes it a special crime to commit a drug offense while using a gun, and allows a court to impose an extra five year prison term for the gun charge. In prosecuting Rosemond, the Government argued that he was the shooter; however, because several witnesses disputed the shooter's identity, the Government also contended that, even if Rosemond was not the shooter, he had aided and abetted the offense and was therefore punishable as if he had been the shooter.

At trial, Rosemond requested that the trial court instruct the jury that, in order to find him guilty of aiding and abetting, it had to find that he "intentionally...facilitate[d]...the use of the firearm." Despite this request, the trial court instructed the jury that it need only determine that Rosemond "knew his cohort used a firearm" and that he "actively participated in the drug crime." Rosemond was convicted of aiding and abetting and the trial court imposed a consecutive sentence of 10 years of imprisonment.

On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Rosemond argued that he had no idea that a gun would be used in the crime and it was error for the trial court not to instruct the jury that Rosemond had to know ahead of time about the firearm to convict him of the gun charge.

In a 7-2 decision, the United States Supreme Court reversed Rosemond's conviction, holding that, in order to be properly convicted as an aider and abettor, Rosemond had to have "foreknowledge" that one of his cohorts would use a gun, not just that a drug deal would occur. The Court concluded that the trial court had instructed the jury that it was enough that Rosemond knew of the drug crime and that "his cohort used a gun", not that he knew that his companion would use a gun. Essentially, the Court held that the Government had to prove that Rosemond knew in advance that someone else would use a gun, and far enough in advance so that he could withdraw from the crime if he so chose.

The knowledgeable attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending individuals that have been charged with state and federal crimes, including cases involving mandatory or enhance penalties. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.

April 1, 2014

United States Supreme Court Holds Police May Conduct Warrantless Search Of Home Over Objection Of Resident

Last month, the United States Supreme Court issued a controversial opinion in the case of Fernandez v. California, holding that police officers may enter and search an individual's residence without a warrant and over his or her objection, as long as another occupant of the home gives consent.

In Fernandez, Los Angeles police officers confronted the defendant, Walter Fernandez, who was suspected of involvement in a robbery, at his home. After Fernandez complained to that the officers didn't have any right to enter his home, they placed him under arrest after observing circumstances that led them to believe he had beaten his girlfriend. After transporting Fernandez to the police station, the officers returned to Fernandez's home, where his girlfriend allowed them to enter and search the premises. While inside, the officers discovered weapons and other evidence linking Fernandez to the robbery.

Fernandez moved the trial court to suppress the evidence discovered in his home, arguing that the police should have obtained a warrant to conduct the search. A motion to suppress is a request to a judge for an order excluding evidence from being consideration by the judge or jury at trial. Usually, the basis for exclusion arises from a violation by law enforcement of a criminal defendant's rights under the U.S. or state constitution. The trial court denied the motion and, following a trial, Fernandez was convicted of multiple charges and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

On appeal, the California Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that, because Fernandez was not present when his girlfriend consented to the search, the general rule that police cannot search a home over the objection of a resident did not apply. Fernandez then appealed again to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court agreed with the California Court of Appeal, holding that the police were not required to obtain a warrant for Fernandez's residence, because the consent of any occupant of a home is sufficient to validate a search. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., argued that "A warrantless consent search is reasonable and thus consistent with the 4th Amendment irrespective of the availability of a warrant." Alito contended that as a resident of the home, Fernandez's girlfriend possessed her own right to consent to the search, stating "Denying someone in [her] position the right to allow the police to enter her home would also show disrespect for her independence."

Dissenting Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan, opined that "the police could readily have obtained a warrant to search the shared residence" and should have done so. Ginsburg opined, "Instead of adhering to the warrant requirement, today's decision tells the police they may dodge it."

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.

March 18, 2014

Maryland High Court Considers Constitutional Right To Fire Legal Counsel

Earlier this month, this blog discussed new legislation that had been introduced in the Maryland General Assembly designed to encourage defendants charged with criminal offenses to waive their constitutional right to be represented by legal counsel at initial bail hearings. In a similar vein, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a ruling late last month, examining the circumstances under which a criminal defendant is entitled to fire his retained counsel in favor of another attorney and a trial court's obligation to the defendant under such circumstances.

Gambrill v. State

In Gambrill v. State, CA No. 42, the defendant, Michael Gambrill, was charged with misuse of telephone facilities and harassment, both misdemeanors carrying minor penalties. Gambrill, however, was also on probation, with a 14-year prison sentence suspended. On the day of trial for the misdemeanor offenses, Gambrill's public defender moved the trial court to postpone the trial so that Gambrill could retain private counsel to represent him. The trial court denied the request, and, following a jury trial, Gambrill was convicted on both charges.

On appeal, Gambrill argued that the court denied his request to obtain private counsel without complying with the requirements of Rule 4-215(e), which requires a court to allow a defendant wishing to discharge his counsel to explain the reasons for the request and, if necessary, continue the action to allow the defendant to retain new counsel. In response, the State contended that Gambrill's request was only to postpone the trial, and therefore did not implicate Rule 4-215(e).

Opinion of the Court of Appeals

In its opinion, the Court of Appeals began by recognizing that criminal defendants have a right to counsel conferred by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Gideon v. Wainwright. Discussing the relationship between the right to counsel and Rule 4-215(e), the Court opined that an accused has both a constitutional right to have the effective assistance of counsel and to reject that assistance and defend himself, stating that Maryland Rule 4-215 was adopted to implement those constitutional guarantees.

Most importantly, the Court acknowledged how a defendant's explanation of his reasons for discharging counsel played a "pivotal role" in giving "practical effect" to the defendant's constitutional choices regarding his Sixth Amendment rights. In light of the importance of these choices, the Court held that a request to discharge counsel is "any statement from which a court could conclude reasonably that the defendant may be inclined to discharge counsel." In the event such a request is made, the trial court must engaged in a discussion with the defendant under Rule 4-215(e) to ascertain the reasons for asking for the discharge.

Ultimately, the Court held that, although Gambrill's request to hire a new attorney may not have been clear, such "inherent ambiguity" did not relieve the judge of his obligation to comply with Rule 4-215(e). The Court concluded that, "To hold otherwise would be to thwart the very purpose of Rule 4-215(e), which is to give practical effect to Gambrill's constitutional options."

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.

March 7, 2014

Maryland Legislators To Consider Bill Curtailing Constitutional Right To Counsel

Late last month, a bill was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly that would encourage defendants charged with crimes to waive their constitutional right to be represented by legal counsel at initial bail hearings.

Under the current pre-trial release system in Maryland, initial bail hearings are presided over by District Court commissioners around the clock. Senate Bill 748, seeks to change that, limiting the availability of commissioners for bail hearings to regular business hours, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., unless the defendant waives his right to be represented by the public defender or has retained private counsel.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right...to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence." In the case Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted this to mean that "lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries," holding that a defendant unable to retain counsel has the right to appointed counsel at the government's expense, for situations in which the defendant faces imprisonment greater than one year.

The Bill was introduced in response to a recent ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals in DeWolfe v. Richmond, in which the Court held that indigent defendants have a right to be represented by public defenders at bail hearings before commissioners. The Court clarified that the right to counsel applies "in any proceeding that may result in the defendant's incarceration." The Court of Appeals stayed implementation of the DeWolfe decision, while it considers the state's appeal of Baltimore City Circuit Judge Alfred Nance's January Order that attorneys be provided for indigent defendants at any time.

According to Senator Robert Zirkin, the Bill's sponsor, "You have the right to counsel available to you. You may have to wait 12 hours (to see a commissioner). Or you can waive your right to counsel and do it quickly." Zirkin claims that the Bill would save Maryland the almost $30 million that the Public Defender's Office estimated it would cost to comply with the Court's decision in DeWolfe, by not requiring counsel to be present at the 177,000 initial bail hearings each year.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, has introduced a related measure, Senate Bill 973, which would create pretrial release programs that would determine if a defendant qualifies for release pending trial. Under Frosh's program, defendants charged with violent crimes or sex crimes would not be eligible for pretrial release and would be taken before a judge, not a commissioner, to set bail. Zirkin has been critical of Frosh's legislation, arguing that "It would be foolish to try to overhaul the criminal justice system as we know it in the next two months" before the General Assembly's current session ends.

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.

February 17, 2014

Maryland High Court Discusses Assertion Of Miranda Rights In Criminal Prosecutions

Last fall, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion in the case of Browne v. State (2013), discussing the circumstances under which a suspect of a crime is entitled to be advised of his Miranda rights prior to being questioned by law enforcement officers.

In Browne, the defendant, Donald Browne, was implicated in a home invasion by DNA evidence discovered on gloves left by him at the scene of the incident. Browne was convicted after a jury trial of a number of criminal offenses, including robbery with a dangerous weapon and use of a handgun in the commission of a felony or crime of violence, burglary, false imprisonment, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon, and possession of a firearm after conviction of a qualifying crime. Browne was later sentenced to a total of 40 years in prison.

Prior to trial, Browne moved to suppress several oral statements he made to one of the police officers investigating the incident. The officer interviewed Browne at the Baltimore County Detention Center, where Brown was being held on unrelated charges, in a small visiting room.

During the interview, the officer informed Browne that he was investigating a case "where [Browne's] name had come up." Browne asked the officer why he was being questioned and in what nature his name had come up. The officer then read Browne his Miranda rights, advising Brown he could talk to an attorney before and during questioning.

Miranda warnings are given by law enforcement officers to criminal suspects in police custody prior to being interrogated, advising them of certain constitutional rights they possess, including the right to remain silent, the right to consult with an attorney and to have that attorney present during questioning, and the right to have an attorney provided at no cost. Browne responded that, although he had a lawyer, he would talk with the officer.

The officer then interviewed Browne for ten to fifteen minutes. At some point during the interview, Browne admitted that he had worked on a paving job at a drag-racing strip owned by the victim of the robbery. Following this admission, the officer informed Browne that his DNA had been recovered from the gloves, after which Browne asked to speak to his attorney.

In arguing to suppress his statements made during the interview, Browne contended that he had informed the officer that he had a lawyer and that he would like for his lawyer to be there for the questioning. In denying Browne's motion to suppress, the trial court found that Browne had been properly advised of his Miranda rights and voluntarily agreed to talk with the officer without his attorney present.

In affirming the trial court's denial of Browne's motion to suppress, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that the trial court was entitled to credit the officer's testimony that Browne voluntarily participated in the interview and did not invoke his right to counsel until the interview was underway, and when he did so, the interview was halted. The Court went on to determine that, because Browne did not unequivocally assert his rights to remain silent and right to an attorney prior to commencing the interview, the statements he made were admissible.

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.

February 4, 2014

Maryland High Court Holds Police May Not Tase Suspects Without Probable Cause to Arrest

In 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion in the case of Reid v. State (2012) 428 Md. 289, discussing what measures law enforcement officers are permitted to use to detain a suspect without converting an encounter into an arrest. In Reid, the defendant, David Reid, was convicted on an agreed statement of facts of wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun, and of being in possession of a handgun after conviction of a disqualifying offense. The statement of facts alleged that Baltimore City police received an anonymous phone call that a tall, black man was armed, and was selling drugs at a particular location.

Upon responding to the reported location, police officers observed and approached Reid, who turned away from the officers. As the officers approached Reid, he fled. The officers yelled for Reid to stop and, when he did not, the officers fired a taser into his back. During a subsequent search, the officers discovered a firearm in Reid's pocket.

Prior to trial, Reid filed a motion to suppress the firearm. The trial court denied Reid's motion, holding that the officers had reasonable articulable suspicion to effectuate a "Terry stop" on Reid, and the use of the taser did not convert the stop into an arrest.

A "Terry stop" is a brief detention of a person by police officers based on a reasonable suspicion that the individual is engaged in criminal activity. The authority for a Terry stop derives from the United States Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), in which the Court held that police may briefly detain a person whom they reasonably suspect is involved in criminal activity, and may also conduct limited search of the suspect's outer garments for weapons, if they have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person detained may be "armed and dangerous."

On appeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals recognized that, although "the use of drawn weapons or handcuffs does not per se convert a Terry stop into an arrest...a person shot in the back with two metal darts...would reasonably believe that he or she was not free to leave the encounter."

The Court held that the degree of force used to detain Reid elevated the detention to a de facto arrest, requiring a finding of probable cause. Probable cause has been commonly defined as "a reasonable amount of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person's belief that certain facts are probably true." Essentially, this means that a police officer has to have information sufficient to support a prudent person's belief that an individual has committed a crime. The Court concluded that, because the officers lacked probable cause to arrest Reid at the time they tased him, the handgun found on him should have been suppressed.

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.

January 20, 2014

Maryland Court Of Appeals Called Upon To Determine Extent Of DWI's Suspects' Right To Counsel

Last week, the Maryland Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case of Motor Vehicle Administration v. Deering, and was called on to decide whether law enforcement officers can deny a motorist's request to consult with an attorney prior to submitting to a breath-alcohol content (BAC) test.

The case stems from a May 3, 2012, traffic stop of the defendant by a Fruitland, Maryland police officer. The officer placed the defendant under arrest for DWI and transported her to the Maryland State Police barracks in Princess Anne. Upon arrival at the barracks, the officer asked the defendant to submit to a breathalyzer test to determine her blood alcohol content.

The defendant asked the officer to allow her to call an attorney prior to taking the test, but the officer refused. After the officer read a written statement informing the defendant that the penalty for refusing to take the test was automatic suspension of her license, the defendant took the test. The result of the test showed the defendant's BAC to be 0.16, more than twice the legal limit in Maryland.

Maryland's "implied consent" law states that a motorist that has been lawfully stopped and detained by a police officer, who has probable cause to believe that the individual has been driving while intoxicated, has impliedly consented to submit to a chemical test of his or her blood, breath, or urine for the purposes of determining blood alcohol content.

Refusing to submit to a chemical test automatically results in an administrative license suspension of 120 days for a first offense, and one year for subsequent offenses. Police are required to notify DWI suspects of the consequences of a refusal to submit to a chemical test.

In this case, the defendant argued that the police officer's refusal to allow consultation with an attorney prior to taking the breath test violated the right to due process under the United States and Maryland Constitutions. The defendant's argument was met with skepticism by Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, who commented that Maryland drivers impliedly consent to submitting to a BAC test as a condition of having a license, and that the right to due process does not apply when consent has already been given.

The National College for DUI Defense and the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys' Association have voiced support for the defendant's position in a joint friend-of-the-court brief. The brief states, "[t]he manner in which the officer reads the form can...detract from its ability to be understood. Additionally, most [DWI] suspects have no legal training or understanding to assist them in making an intelligent decision, that usually occurs late at night, when they are tired, afraid, upset and traumatized."

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been accused of DWI or DUI. If you or someone you know has been charged with a DWI or DUI in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.

January 6, 2014

Maryland Court Of Special Appeals Holds That Police Canine Handlers Must Be Vetted As Experts Witnesses Prior To Testifying At Trial

In September, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued an important decision in the case of Simpson v. State of Maryland, holding that testimony at trial by handlers regarding observations of a trained canine must meet the requirements of expert testimony.

In Simpson, the defendant, William Siam Simpson, III, was accused of setting the home of his former girlfriend's family on fire on several occasions. After being identified by the victim following one of these incidents, Prince George's County Police went to Simpson's home, accompanied by a canine to detect the odor of flammable accelerants. Upon arriving at Simpson's home, the canine alerted to the presence of accelerants on the driver's door handle and trunk's keyhole of Simpson's car.

At trial, the State called a fireman "with collateral duties as an accelerant canine detection handler" to testify. The fireman testified extensively to the training received by his canine partner in the detection of accelerants and the alerts given by the canine at Simpson's home. Simpson was ultimately convicted of attempted second degree arson- and was sentenced to ten years incarceration, with all but two years suspended.

On appeal, Simpson argued that the trial court had erred by overruling his objection to testimony by the fireman regarding his observations of a canine that had been trained to detect the presence of fire accelerants. Specifically, Simpson claimed that the fireman had not been identified as an expert witness prior to trial and had not been accepted as an expert at trial, therefore his testimony regarding the canine's alerts should have been excluded.

Generally, Maryland law prohibits the admission of lay opinion testimony that is based upon specialized knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education if the witness has not been classified as an expert and the defense has not been provided a report by the expert. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals had to determine whether the fireman's testimony at trial regarding his observations of the canine that had been trained to detect the presence of fire accelerants was, in fact, expert testimony.

The Court held that, because the "ability of a dog to alert to accelerants or other contraband 'is not an inherent characteristic, but one that must be instilled into the animal through arduous training,' and because the canine's handler must be qualified to interpret the dog's actions signifying an alert" the fireman's observations of his canine qualified as expert testimony.

The Court concluded that the trial court had, in fact, erred, in admitting the fireman's testimony at trial. Ultimately, however, the Court did not disturb Simpson's conviction, as it determined that there was ample corroborative evidence to support Simpson's connection to the charged crime, and the admission of the fireman's testimony was therefore harmless error.

As this blog has discussed before, recent decisions by the Supreme Court have significant implications for criminal defendants seeking to challenge warrantless searches based upon canine sniffs. The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.

December 23, 2013

Maryland High Court Holds Police May Conduct Warrantless Searches Of Cell Phones Belonging To Arrestees

Earlier this year, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a controversial opinion in the case of Sinclair v. State of Maryland, holding that a police officer who has lawfully arrested an individual may conduct a search of that individual's cellular phone under an exception to the Fourth Amendment's general requirement that law enforcement obtain a warrant prior to conducting any search.

In Sinclair, the defendant, Ronald Sinclair, was accused of participating in a carjacking at a gas station in April of 2010. The day after the carjacking, the victim located his stolen car at a local shopping mall and notified the Prince George's County Police Department. The victim subsequently spotted Sinclair, whom the victim recognized as the carjacker, getting into a vehicle and driving away. The victim informed the police of Sinclair's activities and the police stopped the vehicle in which Sinclair was a passenger.

After police stopped the car, the passengers were ordered to sit on a curb. At some point during the stop, the victim arrived and identified Sinclair as the individual that had carjacked him. Sinclair was arrested, and a cell phone was seized from his person. Approximately five minutes after the arrest, one of the officers examined Sinclair's cell phone, discovering that the screensaver was a photograph of automobile rims that were identical to the rims on the victim's stolen vehicle.

Prior to trial, Sinclair filed a motion in limine, asking the court to exclude the photographs of the rims from trial, arguing that the officer's viewing of the photos constituted a warrantless search, thereby violating Sinclair's Fourth Amendment "right against unreasonable searches and seizures." A motion in limine is a written motion requesting that the judge rule that certain testimony regarding evidence or information excluded from trial.

The Trial Court denied Sinclair's motion, and, following a jury trial at which the photographs were admitted as evidence, Sinclair was found guilty of several charges, including carjacking and use of a handgun in the commission of a felony or crime of violence, and possession of cocaine.

On appeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's denial of Sinclair's motion, recognizing that, although warrantless searches are said to be "per se unreasonable" and generally applicable to cell phones, an exception to the warrant requirement applied in Sinclair's case to validate the search of his phone. Specifically, the Court held that the search incident to a lawful arrest exception to the warrant requirement applied.

In applying this exception, the Court opined that, due to the "volatile nature" of cell phone information, which could be automatically deleted, and the "manifest need...to preserve evidence," the limited and immediate search of Sinclair's cell phone was a "valid search incident to arrest."

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.

December 16, 2013

Maryland High Court Again Addresses DNA Testing Case

Earlier this year, this blog discussed the United States Supreme Court's landmark decision in the case of Maryland v. King, wherein the Court was called upon to determine the constitutionality of the Maryland DNA Collection Act ("Act"), which allows state and local law enforcement authorities to collect DNA samples from individuals who have been arrested for certain crime such as offenses of violence.

In King, the defendant, Alonzo Jay King, Jr. was originally arrested on first and second-degree assault charges. Maryland police obtained a sample of King's DNA, and logged it into Maryland's DNA database, pursuant to the Act. King's DNA sample was matched to that from an unsolved rape case and King was charged for that crime also. The trial court denied a motion to suppress the DNA evidence in the rape case, King was convicted of rape. On appeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and the State appealed.

In declaring the Act constitutional, the Supreme Court reasoned that DNA sampling was a means of identification similar to fingerprinting or photo lineups. The Court held that taking a DNA swab is a "legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment." The Court remanded King's case to the Maryland Court of Appeals for additional consideration on other issues.


In September 2013, the Maryland Court of Appeals addressed two questions on remand: (1) whether the DNA collection was a violation of King's rights under Article 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights; and (2) whether it was improper for the trial court to shift the burden of proof to King to show the search and seizure was reasonable.

King contended that the Act permitted law enforcement to conduct general searches without the reasonable suspicion normally needed to validate such a search and seizure. King claimed that searches conducted under the authority of the Act were a violation of Article 26, which outlaws general warrants and warrants not supported oath or affirmation regarding the search to be conducted.

The Court of Appeals overruled King's objection, holding Article 26 does not offer any greater protection than the Fourth Amendment, and, even if it did, suppression of evidence has never been held to be a remedy for a violation of Article 26.

King also challenged the finding of the trial court that the State had followed the requirements for DNA collection, thereby improperly shifting the burden of proof to King. The Court of Appeals again overruled King's objection, stating that King had failed to present prima facie evidence that the State had not complied with the Act. The Court further held that, even if King had presented sufficient evidence to show that the State had failed to comply with the Act, suppression of evidence is not an appropriate remedy for a statutory violation.

The knowledgeable attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending individuals that have been charged with crimes, including cases involving DNA evidence. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.

December 3, 2013

Maryland Man Pleads Guilty To Selling Drugs In Online Black Market

According to a recent article published by The Baltimore Sun, a Maryland man who was arrested and charged earlier this year by federal law enforcement authorities has plead guilty to a number of drug charges related to his involvement in the illegal online black market known as the Silk Road. Authorities contend that the site has facilitated the sale of more than $1 billion in illegal drugs, and is suspected to have connected its users to others willing to provide illegal services, such as contract killings.

The defendant, age 32, who allegedly used the name "digitalink", pled guilty earlier this month to selling heroin and methylone between November 2011 and January 2012, using the site's encrypted servers and digital currency. The article claims that the defendant admitted to the Department of Homeland Security that the heroin he had sold was purchased from dealers in the Baltimore area, and that the methylone had been imported from China. The article states that according to the defendants plea agreement, he cooperated with DHS agents by providing them various emails, shipping records, and financial statements related to his illegal activities.

This defendant is just one of a number of individuals suspected of participating in illegal activities using the Silk Road. Last month, 29-year-old co-defendant, the alleged designer and operator of the Silk Road website, was indicted by a Maryland grand jury on charges of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and attempted witness murder, among other offenses.

According to allegations in the indictment, the charges against the co-defendant stem from a number of interactions he had with an undercover agent beginning in April 2012. The agent told the co-defendant that he was a high-level drug smuggler seeking to sell drugs on the Silk Road, and that the two had several conversations over the course of several months.

In January of 2012, however, one of the co defendant's employees was arrested. The co-defendant became concerned that the employee might disclose information about the his illegal activity and asked the undercover agent to have the employee killed. The agent agreed and convinced the co-defendant that the employee had been executed. In March of 2012, the co-defendant allegedly wired $80,000 as payment for the killing.

Later in March, authorities say in documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that private messages reviewed by federal agents show a Silk Road vendor threatened to blackmail the co-defendant by exposing information about the site's users and transactions.

Authorities maintain that over 900,000 registered users bought and sold drugs on Silk Road using a form of digital currently known as Bitcoins. Following the shutdown of Silk Road, the FBI seized more than $3.6 million worth of Bitcoin, the largest seizure ever of the virtual currency.

The experienced criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending individuals charged with drug crimes in both state and federal courts. If you or someone you know has been charged with a drug crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.

November 11, 2013

Maryland High Court Holds Police May Stop Individuals To Investigate Suspected Drug Activity

Early last week, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a controversial opinion in the case of Holt v. State of Maryland, holding that a law enforcement officer who has reasonable suspicion that an individual committed a crime may briefly detain the individual to investigate. The Court elaborated, stating that a "series of innocent acts may, taken together, raise reasonable suspicion in the mind of an experienced officer."

In Holt, the defendant, met in 2011 with an individual who was suspected by Baltimore City Police Detectives of trafficking in heroin and had been under surveillance for an extended period of time. Two weeks to the meeting, Detectives had observed the person that the defendant met with engage in a drug transaction with another individual.

During the meeting between the men, they shook hands, got into a car together and went for a short drive, and parted ways. Following the meeting, Detectives followed the defendant's vehicle and, after a few minutes, conducted a traffic stop on the vehicle. One of the Detectives testified that they had stopped the defendant because they wanted to identify the individual who may have engaged in a drug transaction with a known drug dealer. The Detective also testified that the defendant had committed two minor traffic violations.

During the encounter, the defendant pointed a firearm at the Detectives, causing them to fire several shots into the vehicle. The defendant fled the scene but was later arrested after checking himself into a hospital with gunshot wounds. The defendant was charged with assault, reckless endangerment, firearms violations, and a drug offense. The defendant moved to suppress evidence discovered from the traffic stop and the trial court agreed, holding that the Detectives did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant and ruling any testimony related to observation of a gun inadmissible. On appeal by the State, the Court of Special Appeals reversed the trial court's decision and holding that "the stop of the vehicle...was supported by articulable reasonable suspicion." The Court of Special Appeals further opined that even if the stop was not supported by reasonable suspicion, "the exclusionary rule does not apply" because other crimes committed by the defendant "purged the taint from the unlawful stop."

The Court of Appeals granted a petition for a writ of certiorari and, upon review, affirmed the Court of Special Appeals reversal. The Court opined that, based upon the Detectives' observations of the encounter between the men, they had reasonable suspicion sufficient to justify a stop of the defendant to investigate further.
In so holding, the Court deferred to the knowledge and experience of the Detectives with drug transactions, concluding that the Detectives had "articulated specific characteristics of that meeting that, when viewed through the lens of a trained law enforcement officer, support the...suspicion that [the defendant] committed a crime." Accordingly, because the Detectives had reasonable suspicion to conduct the stop of the defendant, he was not entitled to suppression of any of the observations made during and immediately following the investigatory stop.

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.

October 29, 2013

Maryland High Court Decision Calls Into Question Decades Old Murder Convictions

Last year, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a controversial opinion in the case of Unger v. State of Maryland which has resulted in the recent release of a number of individuals who were convicted decades ago of homicide offenses. As of July of this year, Maryland had released thirteen individuals convicted of murder before 1980, and it is estimated that up to 200 more prisoners that were convicted of violent offenses could assert claims for new trials based on the opinion.

In Unger, the defendant, Merle Unger was convicted of the murder of an off-duty police officer in 1976. At Unger's trial, the following instruction was given to the jury by the judge:

"[A]nything which I may say about the law, including any instructions which I may give you, is merely advisory and you are not in any way bound by it. You may feel free to reject my advice on the law and to arrive at your own independent conclusions."

Unger was found guilty of multiple offenses, including felony murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Decades later, Unger filed several petitions in Maryland's court system seeking to have his convictions overturned. Ultimately, Unger's case made its way to the Maryland Court of Appeals, which held that the jury instruction used in Unger's case, and many other cases at the time, effectively denied criminal defendants a right to a fair trial by permitting the jury to disregard the law.

The Court opined, "It is undisputed that the trial judge's instructions at Unger's 1976 trial, telling the jury that all of the court's instructions on legal matters were merely advisory,' were clearly in error, at least as applied to matters implicating federal constitutional rights."

Based on the Court's opinion in Unger, a number of defendants convicted of serious offenses such as rape or murder prior to 1980 have issued requests for new trials. A spokesman for the Baltimore City State's Attorney, Mark Chesire, commented, "Once the initial decision came out we started to get hit with appeals and were fighting them....We look at whether we can go forward with a new trial, what evidence and witnesses still remain and what the prisoner's record has been in prison."

According to Mike Millemann of the University of Maryland School of Law, many of the convicts impacted by the Unger decision had "fundamentally unfair trials...[r]eally dysfunctional, structurally defective trials....Their trials were flawed and there is no reason to trust any of the results of those trials."

As for Unger, he remains in prison at age 64, having been reconvicted in June of this year after another trial.

The knowledgeable attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending individuals that have been charged with serious crimes in Maryland such as rape or murder. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.

October 15, 2013

New Arrests Connected To New York Motorcycle Gang Assault

Wednesday, the New York Post reported that an undercover police officer had been arrested in connection with a recent incident involving an assault by a motorcycle gang in New York City on the driver of a sport utility vehicle. A 32 year old undercover detective was arrested Wednesday and brought into court to face felony gang-assault charges for his alleged involvement in the gang assault last month.

On September 29, 2013, a man was driving his Range Rover with his wife and five-month-old child on the West Side Highway when his vehicle was surrounded by a group of motorcyclists. One of the bikers cut the man off and slammed on his brakes, causing the SUV to bump the motorcycle's rear tire. The man stopped his vehicle and several of the bikers began to damage the SUV. The man attempted to drive away, however, in doing so struck one of the bikers.

The bikers pursed the man for over two miles before the SUV exited the highway and got stuck in street traffic. One of the bikers used his helmet to break out the driver's window and the group pulled the man from the SUV and beat him. The man was taken to a hospital where he received several stitches in his face.

The undercover detective was arrested after a video of the confrontation uploaded to YouTube went viral and he was spotted participating the melee. The officer initially told investigators that, although he was there when the incident started, he had left before the beating began . After the video surfaced, however, the officer was identified using his fist to break out the Range Rover's rear window.

The undercover detective was charged under New York law with riot and criminal mischief. Four other motorcyclists have also been charged in the incident.

Had the incident occurred in Maryland, in addition to assault, the motorcyclists could have been charged with disturbing the public peace and disorderly conduct under Maryland Code § 10-201, which prohibits person from willfully act in a disorderly manner that disturbs the public peace. Disturbing the public peace or disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of 60 days imprisonment and a fine of $500.

The motorcyclists also could have been charged under Maryland Code § 6-301 with malicious destruction of property, which prohibits a person from willfully and maliciously destroying, injuring or defacing the real or personal property of another. Malicious destruction of property is a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of 60 days imprisonment and a fine of $500 if the property damages is valued at less than $500. If the value is more than $500, the sentence is elevated to up to 3 years and fines of $2,500.

The knowledgeable attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending individuals that have been charged with crimes in Maryland. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.

October 11, 2013

New Cell Phone And Seat Belt Driving Restrictions Go Into Effect In Maryland

Tuesday, October 1, 2013, two new laws regarding the use of cellphones while driving and mandatory use of seat belts became effective in Maryland. These new laws are just two of the hundreds that took effect Tuesday as a result of actions taken by the General Assembly in the past year.


Talking on a cell phone while driving has been illegal in Maryland since 2010 as a "secondary offense." This means that, until the new law passed, a police officer could only cite a motorist for using his cellphone if the driver was also committing another offense, such as speeding, and could not stop a driver solely because he was talking on a cell phone.


Under the new law, using a cell phone while driving is now a "primary offense" punishable by a fine up to $75 for a first violation, with the fine increasing by $50 for each subsequent violation. Drivers are still permitted to talk on their cellphones in the car as long as the vehicle isn't moving, such as at a stoplight. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia already have already adopted laws that banned texting while driving and many others have placed limitations on regular cell-phone usage.


Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, commented on the importance of the new law, "It's really vital that the law is primary because drivers are very reluctant to put the phones down unless they think they're going to get a ticket."


According to report published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHSTA"), in 2009, over five thousand people were killed on America's roadways and another 448,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. Of those crashes involving distracted drivers causing death, cell phone use was the cited distraction in 995. Further, of the crashes that resulted in injury, more than twenty-four thousand were the result of cellphone related distractions.


Also effective October 1, 2013, is a measure requiring all occupants of a vehicle, including passengers in back seats, wear seat belts. Prior to the passage of the new law, backseat passengers over 16 years old were not required to wear seat belts. The seat belt law is, similar to the old cell phone ban, a secondary offense, carrying a maximum fine of $50. Head of the Motor Vehicle Administration, John T. Kuo, stated that, although Maryland has a high rate of seat belt compliance, over ninety percent, the dangers associated with failing to wear a seat belt warranted the new law. According to Kuo, "In a crash, that back seat passenger, if you're unrestrained, becomes a projectile to the front seat passenger."


The qualified attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience representing individuals who have been injured by the negligent driving of another. If you or someone you know has been injured in a car or motorcycle accident, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.